Gasol in the Clutch
The number one qualm about trading Rudy Gay has been: who will take that last-second shot when you absolutely have to get a bucket? All arguments about the Grizzlies’ offense needing Gay’s scoring have been statistically nullified, as Memphis’s offensive efficiency has increased and, more surprisingly, their offensive efficiency in clutch situations has increased as well (clutch-time being defined as the final five minutes in the 4th quarter or OT when the game is within 5 points). Ridding Memphis’ offense of the Rudy plague has allowed the Grizzlies to tap into their formidable team-ball by enhancing ball-movement and the team’s interior post-strength. The question still remains, however, who takes that “final” shot? If we move all the analytics aside and neglect the statistical history of Memphis since trading Gay, who on the team can produce a bucket when the game is on the line? Who gets the ball? And where? The answer has become clear: Marc Gasol.
Marc Gasol is the leading clutch-time performer left in the playoffs. The previous sentence is not a misprint. According to the statistics at NBA.com, Marc Gasol currently ranks fourth out of the top five clutch-time performers this post-season. Factoring the number of clutch-situational games played and the FG% and points scored during the window of clutch-time, Marc Gasol is THE best clutch-performer left in these playoffs having played in 7 clutch-games while scoring 19 points at a 54.5% clip. The three players ahead of Gasol in this clutch-games played/points scored/FG% stat—Kevin Durant (8/25/37.5), Nate Robinson (9/24/47.4), and Jarrett Jack (8/20/66.7)—have already been knocked out of the post-season. So we’re left with the prowess of Marc Gasol, whose 54.5 FG% bests even the preeminent clutch performers such as LeBron (25%) and Tony Parker (46.7%). Two nearly-identical situations come to mind when thinking about Gasol’s clutch play: Games 4 and 5 of the Thunder series. Gasol hit two fade-away “jumpers” in the high-post with time winding down in both the game and the shot clock.
In Game 4, Gasol hits the jumper with 23.2 seconds left in OT, and 1 second on the shotclock:
In Game 5, Gasol hits the jumper with 27.4 seconds left in regulation, and 2.2 seconds left on the shot clock:
The other important realization (or re-realization) here is that Gasol is making these plays from the high-post, despite the increased emphasis put on Gasol’s left block post-scoring. While many have pinned this season and this post-season as a breakout one for Marc Gasol, he really isn’t doing anything new. His defense, passing, and basketball IQ are finally getting the recognition he deserves. The one thing that has broken out is his post-scoring on the left block, eliciting many a Hakeem Olajuwon reference even from national broadcasters like Chris Webber. While the Grizzlies needed to exploit Gasol’s mismatches and post-superiority on the left block against the Clippers and the Thunder, that mentality doesn’t apply as much against the better post and team defense of the Spurs. The Grizzlies should emphasize Gasol’s high-post presence (where he has been most effective) to bolster the overall team-play of the Grizzlies.
What should the Grizzlies do in the clutch? Give the ball to Marc Gasol in the high-post where he has been a deadly shooter, and where he can see the court and make the right pass. On a related note, the Grizzlies should consider playing Quincy Pondexter more in these types of scenarios since he can space the floor as the Grizzlies' best spot-up and corner three-point specialist, and boasts the highest 3FG% these playoffs at 45.9% (over Bayless' 31.1% and Conley's 28.6%). Check the numbers yourself at NBA.com's statistics resource, and compare his shotchart this playoffs to Bayless and Conley (especially in the corner-3).
*all statistics courtesy of stats.nba.com